Compost for the Lazy: Throw It on the Ground

Compost can save the world! It sucks carbon dioxide out of the air and not only that, a half-inch layer of this black gold can still increase yields six years after its application. I had been composting in our community bins for nearly 10 years—and for several years before that at my house—but decided to start a rogue pile in my yard several months ago. I can’t grow much out there in the shade but food scraps will certainly rot. In fact, I can’t possibly prevent the natural process of rot.

When I composted at my house years ago, like many people, I believed I needed to buy a special bin. For my new compost pile, I wanted to create a simple, inexpensive system. I could have made a cylindrical bin out of chicken wire or built an upcycled bin from wooden pallets (both great options). But instead I bought nothing. I built nothing. I took what I had collected in the kitchen and threw it on the ground.

I throw everything on my pile:

  • Fruit peels, scraps and all pits. Even avocado pits break down quickly!
  • Vegetable peels and scraps. I make vegetable broth out of most little bits of vegetables, after which they go on the pile.
  • Corn cobs. I couldn’t believe how quickly these dry out. After a couple of weeks, I can easily break them up into 1- or 2-inch pieces to speed up their decomposition.
  • Butter wrappers. I have mentioned many times on my blog that I refuse to give up butter. I recycle the paper box and throw the wrappers on the ground. “I’M AN ADULT!” (Straus butter wrappers are compostable. You may have to do a little investigating to find out if your brand’s are also.)
  • Bones. Most people will tell you never to add bones to compost. We don’t eat much meat, but when we do, I make bone broth and then add those bones to the pile. Within weeks, they petrify and I can easily crush them into powder with my hand. I couldn’t even find any in the first pile today. They had completely broken down. Amazing.
compost bowl
Scraps for the compost heap. Most of these came from the birthday dinner my kids cooked for their dad.

I have read that meat and bones attract animals but I attract animals regardless. Until this morning, I had no bones on my pile (the last ones broke down weeks ago) and yet an opossum has been dining at chez Bonneau nightly. My kids named him Richard Nixon. Through my bedroom window, I hear Richard Nixon out there in the middle of the night rustling through the leaves, eating his dinner. You may not want an opossum in your yard but I think he (or she) is cute (I saw him this morning). We tried to capture footage of him on a motion-detector, night-vision camera my neighbor set up in my yard, but Richard Nixon is a sneaky one. We captured only me working out there.

Even with a couple of my neighbors adding their food scraps to my pile, it’s small enough that I don’t feel the need to build any sort of bin to contain it. The critters visit the pile from the earth beneath and set to work chowing down and converting the scraps to rich, loamy soil that I can use in my vegetable bed. And I have tons of critters! Right now, I don’t have as many worms as I would like. I need to do a better job of keeping my pile moist. The summer heat makes this more difficult. But as I said, you cannot stop compost from breaking down—it actually ferments, as we all will one day—and you can’t really mess it up if you follow a few simple steps. This is what I do:

1. Throw kitchen scraps on the pile. These are called green materials.

2. Throw a handful of brown materials on top, such as leaves, shredded corn stalks or hay. The giant acacia tree in my yard, under which my compost piles sit, rains down leaves constantly. I use those. By creating air pockets, brown materials prevent your pile from becoming a soggy, smelly mess.

3. Add moisture to the pile. Compost will dry out in the summer, so ideally, situate your pile in a shady spot.

4. Turn the pile every few days to inject it with air, which helps speed up decomposition. My neighbor says I don’t need to turn such small piles. Like sourdough bread making, you’ll find various recipes for compost. I’m just describing what I do. You may want to do it a little differently.

2015-08-01 11.01.59
Turning the pile

5. Once the first pile becomes large and starts to break down and cook, start a second pile. And it really does cook. My second active pile felt very hot today when I turned it! How thrilling! The heat means it’s working. The piles are a little difficult to make out in the picture below. The finished pile sits behind the cooking pile.

pile one and pile two
Though this be madness, yet there is method in ’t.

6. Remove the compost from the first pile, pull out any noticeably large pieces that haven’t broken down, like the corn husks I should have shredded below, and throw them on the second pile. Work the compost from the finished pile into your soil where desired.

2015-08-01 10.54.42

7. After using up the first pile, let the second pile cook and throw scraps where the first pile had been. By starting a second pile, I have one cooking and one ready (or nearly ready) to use.

Of course you can get much more scientific about your compost than my steps here do. This is another good resource.

finished compost
Finished compost

Look at that beautiful, rich black gold! And I love the earthy smell! Done properly, compost does not smell at all. Even with the addition of urine. The fact that I sometimes add urine to my pile will no doubt horrify some, but I think the fact that it can horrify just shows how detached we are from nature.

Urine contains high amounts of nitrogen. Dry brown materials contain more carbon. A low carbon-to-nitrogen ratio (say 7:1 as opposed to 35:1) decomposes organic matter quickly.

ready for planting

On the weekend, my neighbor ripped out the vines in a bed outside of my yard and worked the compost into the soil. I planted a few squash seeds in there I saved recently. Perhaps I planted too late in the year but I enjoy experimenting.

74 Replies to “Compost for the Lazy: Throw It on the Ground”

  1. Excellent post! Compost is one of those simple things we all can do (we do compost in a balcony!), giving back to Earth what belongs to her. Thanks for the writing.

    1. Thanks so much! It is VERY easy. It’s just silly to put these valuable resources in a garbage bag, lug the full bag out to the curb where a gas-guzzling garbage truck picks it up and hauls it to an overburdened landfill. What a crazy, complicated system we have created!

  2. We have kerbside compost pick up, but I have been doing a “free style” type of composting in the garden- basically any spot that I am preparing to plant something I start putting veggie scraps out to attract worm friends so they get to work, and turn it when I think about it. Usually a couple of weeks later I have a beautiful spot of soil that new plants take to really well. It’s definitely composting for the lazy 🙂 Thanks for the post xx

    1. Ohhhh great idea Lisa. If my pile gets too large, I could try that. Word is getting out about my compost and neighbors want to bring their food scraps over 😉 Thanks for checking out the post!

      1. If you want lazy. Get chickens. They turn the pile, break down faster, keep other pests away and provide fertilizer

  3. We used to have an open compost bin, but it began to attract rats, so we went to a container method.
    The warmth of the sun actually helps compost break down faster, so our bins are black tubs with lots of holes for air and moisture to get through. This year, there is a very happy cherry tomato plant growing up the side of the compost bin – it must have escaped!

    1. I hope I don’t attract rats! So far just the opossum. I love it when rogue plants start growing in/around the compost bin! That’s such a bonus. I bet those will be delicious cherry tomatoes.

      1. Ours started with a oppossum, then moved to raccoons and finally rats. The squirrels have eaten all the tomatoes, so I can’t say how they taste, but the plant is huge!

      2. Yikes! I hope I don’t see any rats out there! We do have raccoons in the neighborhood but I haven’t seen any feasting on my compost pile. Lucky squirrels 😉

      3. I enjoy your blog. I am glad you have an opossum. The article at the link I’ve included says opossums are “where lyme disease goes to die.” Not only do opossums eat tons of ticks, their body temperature is too low for rabies to survive.

      4. Our homemade compost area also got a ‘possum first, then raccoons, then mice. After that we hired a compost service. They come weekly (on bicycles!!) to pick up our compost bucket and replace it with a cleaned one. They take it to a neighborhood compost site where neighbors can come and get finished compost. Love it! I hope in your area your simple compost method can continue to work without drawing rodents. We live in the city but close to a lagoon/bird estuary.

  4. Corrugated cardboard encourages worms- I rip it up And keep it damp. They love it.

    1. Thank you for that tip! Do you just tear it up and add it to the pile or do you put it underneath? My sister puts cardboard down in her garden (whole sheets though) and then wets it, adds dirt and plants her seeds or plants. She said it works really well.

      1. I’ve done both. I think in your situation I would shred it and add it. A layer smothers weeds .

      2. Thank you! I will give it a try 🙂

  5. Do you find that by putting food scraps and bones on your garden that you encourage rodents?

    1. I have attracted an opossum to my yard. I haven’t seen other rodents though. The bones completely break down to a powdery dust, so there’s nothing left of them after only a two or three weeks. Also we eat only a little meat so I put only a few bones on there. So maybe if I added more I would attract rodents. So far, so good (except for the opossum but I think he is cute).

      1. Stephen Henry Davenport says:

        I’m a year late to this party but thanks for your blog. I love your devil-may-care composting. We also have made it up on the hoof, with few differences except a loose container.

        We don’t add bones / meat / meal leftovers except fruit cores and occasional veg and it attracts opossums anyway! We’re lucky enough to have one regularly visiting our yard, and I’m certain picking through the best of the remains. I found it tonight loafing on the compost and nonchalantly chewing on a discarded pickle. It looked up as if to say “What? I’m chewing a pickle. And?” Most amusing. I love them.

      2. Hahaha! I think they are pretty cute critters. My cat saw ours recently and didn’t know what to make of him. Fortunately for Bootsy and/or the oppossum, Bootsy was inside behind a glass door.

        A friend of mine told me recently she is intimidated by the whole composting thing. I told her stuff rots–you can’t stop it! We seem to love to make things complicated. Thanks for reading and for the comment 🙂

  6. I love this! Sharing on my Facebook. I’d love to pin it, too, but I didn’t see the icon. I’ll check again. Great post!

    1. Thank you so much! I’m glad you liked the post 🙂

    2. You can pin anything by copying the URL and pasting it into Pinterest. Or you can get a Pinterest button for the toolbar of your browser, and then when you see a page you like, just click the button.

      1. Thank you for pinning 🙂

      2. You have a brilliant blog!

      3. Thank you so much. That makes my day 🙂

      4. Thanks for the info. I thought I had the Pinterest button. I better double check what’s going on.

  7. Great post, I love compost! I think you’ll make some lucky worms happy!

    1. Thank you! I love compost too. I’ve always found it fascinating. And it’s so easy. I think it can seem intimidating at first to some but there is really nothing to it.

  8. I thought I knew all about composting, but never thought to put bones in it, or to dry corn cobs and break them up. I learn a lot from your blot.

    1. Thank you, Hilda 🙂 I thought I would give it a try, throwing in the bones and cobs, and was pleasantly surprised that it worked! I’ve also learned a lot from your blog!

  9. It’s encouraging to see that small open piles work!

    1. It is working well out there, Aggie. And it breaks down quickly too. I should have been composting this way all along. Saves me a trip to the community compost bins. I just step into my yard.

      1. I always feel guilty that I don’t do the official turn and check the temperature method. This is encouraging. Thanks again.

  10. So that was interesting.
    I compost on my balcony.
    Do I need worms?
    How much moisture is suggested?
    What form of moisture? Urine?
    Thanks for sharing.

    1. I think you’ll need some worms. You need critters in there to break down the food scraps. The compost should me moist but not soggy, kind of like a rung-out sponge. You can just add water. Yes, I add urine. I have asked male friends to go directly on the pile but so far no one has taken me up on it. I sometimes collect mine in a jar and take it out there.

  11. Brilliant! This shows there is no excuse for not composting.

  12. […] Source: Compost for the Lazy: Throw It on the Ground | The Zero-Waste Chef […]

  13. Enjoyed this post very much. I have a large area behind a white picket fence in the corner of my backyard where I compost. Every morning, I walk out there and dump vegetable scraps, bread, coffee grounds, and coffee filters in the pile and everyday, my free-range chickens go out there and do their chicken dance in the dirt as they pick out the food scraps they like. I do not put meat out there as I am afraid of attracting rodents that will comeback for the chickens! I never have to turn the compost with the chickens around.

    1. Your system sounds perfect–easy and it closes the loop! Oh to have chickens. Thanks for sharing that 🙂

  14. […] I’ve only done curbside composting, but with our big new community garden plot, I might take Zero Waste Chef’s simple advice and just start throwing scraps on the ground […]

  15. So inspiring. It looks so simple. We started a compost some month ago. Not sure to do it properly. Let’s see 🙂

    1. Thank you! It is very easy. In fact, you can’t stop food scraps from breaking down if you wanted to. Good luck with yours. It should be great 🙂

  16. I also have an article on lazy composting! In my case, I prefer to laze by not turning it very often. I do have bins, but they’re just large flowerpots. I also compost some autumn leaves as winter mulch for my flowerbeds and (along with the trimmings from my shrubbery and the dead morning-glory vines in the fall) erosion control for my steep slope; some years I have cleaned up all the fallen leaves from the sidewalks and street along much of my block, since I live on a little side street that the city doesn’t street-sweep very often, and the leaves are hazardously slippery to pedestrians and even cars–may as well use them to rebuild my soil!

  17. […] Interesting Extras by Others: * A review post on types of compost tumblers * A Lazy Composter’s experience * A blogger’s experience with […]

  18. Great article, thank you. I definitely needed the lazy guide! We just bought a house and it has all the makings of a great compost heap – plenty of grass clippings and an even more plentiful supply of dried leaves! Add to that the fact that I’m filling my Bokashi compost bin up quicker than you can say “I threw it on the ground”, and I really do have all the necessary ingredients. I’ve just been putting it off though, thinking I needed a bin to help deter pests and contain the pile. With a billion other more pressing renovation projects underway though and our first Bub due in just 3 days, let’s just say we haven’t quite had the time and energy (or the agility!) to build one. But thanks to your wonderful article, I promise that once Bub is out and I can move with relative ease again, I WILL start my on ground heap like yours! I know our possums will get into it which I can handle, but have you ever had any issues with rats or mice?

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Thank you Kelly 🙂 I can understand your need for lazy compost! I am not nearly as busy as you soon will be but didn’t want to spend time building a bin. I haven’t seen mice over by my heap but I think I attract them because my cat likes to inspect that area of my yard and very occasionally I’ll find him eating a mouse (I have also rescued at least one from his jaws). I wish he wouldn’t kill things but at least he is self-sufficient. Good luck with Bub! That’s very exciting! ~ Anne Marie

  19. Hi, I just started following you on Instagram and was so excited to see this post. We’ve been composting like this in our rental the past 6 months and it’s been working great. We recently bought a house that has a few raised beds and I was planning on saving one to use as a compost bin and then rotating them out with our growing seasons. I never knew that about urine, now I can tell my 6 year old son to pee on the compost pile, he prefers peeing outside. Thank you, I’ve been enjoying your posts!

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Hi Bethany, thanks for following on IG 🙂 It works so well, doesn’t it? And now with your son’s contribution, it should break down even faster. I wish I had a six-year old to send out to my pile. That’s awesome. ~ Anne Marie

  20. Happy to come across this post too. Done with the compostable kitchen bags, and didn’t want to commit to a(nother) plastic worm bin or compost set up. Not wanting to build my own either.

    The ease in which you can just toss is so appealing! And I love the idea of setting up little piles where you want to garden.

    Like you, we have opossums, raccoons, skunks, coyotes, fox… and other animals nightly. I also have a cat who insists on going in and out all night. We’re working on that;-).

    However, it’s mostly the rats I definitely DO NOT want… I was a little traumatized by the sheer amount when we had chickens and I’m pretty convinced that all animals will be out there in droves with an open compost. I also wouldn’t put it past rats to get inside closed bins…

    One thing I wanted to add is that I’ve been able to cook down leftover veggies and bones from stock (even better if you have a slow cooker) and make a puree for dogfood. It usually sits on my stove covered with water on low heat for two days. Haven’t tried for cat food but that’s next on my list to make!

    Thanks For All of Your INCREDIBLE Work and Inspiration!

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Hi Danielle, I’m glad the post gave you some ideas. I tried making cat food once out of the bones but they weren’t mushy enough and Bootsy didn’t like it. (Oh, but he loves to eat big fat rats!) So I’ll keep them in my slow cooker longer. I plan to start stock today in there so this is perfect timing. Thanks for the idea and for reading. ~ Anne Marie

  21. So basically, whatever life throws at you, you make a broth and throw that shit on the ground. Nice! That’s a good metaphor for living…

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Thank you, Ellen. I hadn’t thought of it that way. That’s a great way to put it 🙂 ~ Anne Marie

  22. Steadman's Girl says: Reply

    What a great article! For several years, I had a very small compost pile even more simple than yours. ALL I did was throw it on the ground. There never seemed to be enough at one time to turn. And boy howdy, it decomposed fast! No matter what I threw out there (it was always only vegetable matter and sometimes dryer lint, who knew?), it was invisible after a month. I only worked on a small scale, you see, because I wanted to use my scraps instead of wasting them in the landfill but I wasn’t ready to commit to a full-on backyard garden. It gets very hot in the summer here and we have tiger mosquitoes that are active 24/7. And I’m a wimp. We planted a small tree last year in the former compost corner of the yard, and it’s growing like crazy. You’ve encouraged me to start another pile somewhere else this year. Maybe we’ll get a cute possum, too.

  23. Marilee Bryant says: Reply

    I was so happy to read this! Years ago I made a composting area in my side yard with wooden stakes holding chicken wire. This was at a time when I had three hens, so the compost pile was the perfect place to put the dirty straw. I always said that the chickens and box turtles saw the compost area as a buffet, pulling out delicious worms and insects. Time went by and I stopped composting for various reasons. Now I am inspired by your “throw it on the ground” approach, which I am referring to as Casual Composting. I also recently started making my own almond milk. While I have followed your directions to toast some of the remaining almond pulp, I don’t feel I can use all of it, so I started putting it on the compost pile. The other day I looked out to see our largest box turtle with a mouth full of almond meal. I do have a question about the butter wrappers. I always thought you weren’t supposed to put greasy/oily things in the compost. Not true?

  24. Hi! Thank you for this! I have a bigger questions. Do you have any tips for lazy composting, without attracting animals? Also, I live up north, where it’s winter 6 months per year. Any tips for cold climate lazy composting?

  25. […] love this post by Zero Waste Chef on composting “for the lazy.” It inspired me to start my own “lazy” compost pile on the tiny sliver of grass […]

  26. Hi! I was under the impression that rotting vegetable release global warming gases. Is this true even if you bury them?? Thanks.

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Hi Bansari, That’s correct in a landfill. In a landfill, food waste is compacted so tightly, that anaerobic bacteria (bacteria that thrive without oxygen) break it down and these bacteria release methane gas as a byproduct. In a compost heap, worms and bugs eat the waste and turn it over as they tunnel through the waste and dirt and leaves, adding air to the pile. They also excrete nutrient-rich castings that enrich the soil.
      ~ Anne Marie

  27. […] peels and fry your (organic) potato skins, you’ll still accumulate scraps and bits of food. Compost them. If you don’t have a yard, perhaps a neighbor will let you toss your food scraps onto their […]

  28. TONYA B DOWLING says: Reply

    Thanks so much for your information! I just throw my scraps out my kitchen door. Every now and then I get a surprise pepper plant, or head of lettuce. My roses are loving the extra nutrients, too. Every so often i will aerate or throw some dirt on top of my corner, but lazy compost piles are great if you only have a limited amount of scraps.

  29. Hi I’m new to composting. Are there things (food leftovers) that should NOT be put into a compost pile? I’ve been collecting my coffee grinds for months and also their filters. Been thinking about recycling the filters under the bottom of planters for new plants.

    Other scraps include orange rinds and egg shells. I know coffee and egg shells are usually safe, but any no-no’s?

    I want to be a better zero waste person.

    I live in japan in a quiet neighborhood but not in a super rural area where they seem to burn everything. I do have neighbors on both sides of my place—an apartment walk up on one side and my other neighbor’s plot of weeds and neglected fruit trees. My own yard is currently a battleground between myself (with a busy schedule) and weeds that have popped out and growing through the tarp that supposedly was there to keep weeds from growing. Shallow soil, mostly rocky until I can get to it. But I’d eventually want to grow white clover patches and dandelions (the cute ones) in my yard to attract a lazy bee or two and butterflies. We have crows inspecting my weedy yard and I’m worried they will thrash the compost pile and make a mess. What should I do to prevent this? Cover the pile with netting?

    1. The “throw it on the ground” reference made me smile and chuckle a lot

      1. I’m glad Alexander 😀
        ~ Anne Marie

  30. Aleksandar Ilic says: Reply


    thank you so much for the material. I was wondering because I live in an apartment could my roommates and I throw scraps into a air tight bin on the balcony, and then when I visit my parents house on a weekly basis or go out into nature I could throw the scraps there. Would something like that work in your opinion?

    warm regards,

    1. Hi Aleksander,
      Sure, saving it for your parents will work. Often my compost bucket sits on the counter for several days before I add it to the pile. I’d be careful about throwing it out in nature. Someone needs to maintain the pile–adding brown matter and water occasionally. We’ve been burying our food scraps in a raised bed lately to try and add some nutrients to it. I think the worms are very happy.

  31. Happy Birthday to the ground!

    We usually do pallet bins but I’ve moved more to composting in place in the garden. Came across your website when looking for information on in ground composting and thoroughly enjoyed it. We also have a possum that comes by for dinner. Now I totally need to name him.

    1. Composting in place while sheltering in place! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Thank you. Richard Nixon says hello to your possum 🙂

    1. Great article. I didn’t know compost in a landfill was actually harmful. We have been composting for years. We recently moved from a house in a very urban area with houses very close together. Our compost pile did attract rats. It didn’t help that we had a bird feeder too. Now we have a house with a big partially wooded backyard and the compost is well away from the house. We have a wire bin for stuff like branches and vines (we have a lot of wisteria) and a separate area for food waste. Our compost is too new, so I recently had to buy a bag of potting soil. I’m looking forward to our black gold! I didn’t know you could compost butter wrappers. My husband is kind of militant about ‘no grease in the compost’.

      1. Hi Kayla,
        Your backyard sounds dreamy. I hope you’re able to use black gold soon 🙂 If you remove the wrapper while the butter is cold, the wrapper won’t have any butter on it to speak of, unless a little chunk or two stick to the folds, in which case, you can just pick those off. Enjoy your yard!

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